Q: I was sitting in the courtyard of my building, keeping an eye on my children as they played, when I inadvertently overheard a conversation in the apartment one flight up. My neighbor’s two daughters were chattering and, in the course of talking, they lapsed into words of lashon hara. The girls were totally unaware that I could hear them… I wanted to ask: In such a situation, do I have an obligation to give tochachah, rebuke?
A: In the mitzvah of tochachah, it doesn’t matter if the sinner is aware that others know about his sin or not — the mitzvah of tochachah exists, regardless. But we know that one always has to be careful when giving rebuke not to hurt the sinner more than necessary, as the passuk says (Vayikra 19:17): “You shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him.” In the case of our question, this need for caution is far greater, because, when the questioner will rebuke the neighbor’s daughters for their words, they will realize that she overheard their chatter and will be very ashamed. Therefore, one must deal with the matter cleverly, such as by telling the girls: “I was in the yard and heard you talking. I couldn’t hear clearly… I didn’t want to listen closely… But it could be that you spoke lashon hara unintentionally… It’s a good idea to be more careful to avoid words of lashon hara and also to keep in mind that, down in the yard, people may hear what you’re saying upstairs.” Alternately, one can write them an anonymous letter, as if from someone who passed through the yard and didn’t know the speakers, commenting to them about the danger of lashon hara and also alerting them to the fact that loud chatter can be heard by passersby.
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